What haunted Huw for years afterwards was the fact that he stayed in touch with the Marist Brother who sexually abused him.
Huw grew up in South Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. ‘We were a very committed Catholic family and that stayed for a long time.’ His dad attended mass every day until he died.
The first few years of high school were fine, although Huw didn’t really make many friends there. The Marist Brothers were big users of fists, straps and canes. They sometimes came to Huw’s place for dinner. ‘Anyone who wore a frock was welcome in the household. And nothing could be said about them.’
He met Brother David Pierson when he was doing agricultural studies, which was ‘more like slave labour’. In the Year 10 holidays, Pierson asked Huw to help him with chores. One afternoon Pierson told Huw that he normally had a nap around that time. ‘So he took me to his room, he stripped down, I just left my jocks and singlet on. And there was no sleeping.’
The sexual abuse continued for 12 months and took place on the school property, in Pierson’s room or in Huw’s bedroom at home. His parents trusted Pierson enough to not care that he spent time there.
Huw’s grades deteriorated rapidly in Year 11. His attitude changed ‘big time’ at home and at school. He became defiant. Pierson wanted more sexual favours and told Huw that he loved him, but Huw was getting more uncomfortable with their relationship and refused.
No one was aware of the abuse. There was no name-calling or gossip about Pierson at school – although ‘he had plenty of competitors for that role. We had some absolutely sadistic bastards’.
Huw ended up repeating his final year at a different school but he still got lacklustre grades. ‘I really lost all my drive and my ability to study.’
Not going to university is one of Huw’s big regrets, along with the fact that he stayed in social contact with Pierson for a while. ‘Fuckin’ dumbest thing I’ve ever done.’
Huw went off to work and buried the abuse for the next 20 years. He got married in his early 20s and stayed active in the Church.
He’s not sure what made him confide in his parish priest in the early 1990s. Maybe it was because child sexual abuse was emerging into the public domain. Maybe because his son was approaching the age Huw was when he was abused.
The ball began rolling. His local priest put him in touch with the Marist Brothers provincial. He said he had no support mechanisms ready because there’d been no claims of sexual abuse from any of his schools.
A psychological assessment was arranged.
After a year of counselling Huw realised the extent of the impact of Brother Pierson’s abuse. He wrote a letter to him. Pierson wrote back and admitted to sexually abusing Huw. But, he wrote, the abuse he himself had suffered was much worse. He asked Huw to forgive him.
Later that year Huw made a civil claim against the Marist Brothers. Then the barriers went up. A newly appointed provincial refused to hand over Huw’s psych report to him.
‘This was the first of many hurdles the Marist Brothers placed in my way.’
After he put in his claim, Huw was subjected to an interrogation from the Church’s psychiatrist – ‘a first-class pig of a man’ – who suggested to Huw that perhaps he had initiated the sexual contact with Pierson. And perhaps he was in his current job so that he had access to young boys.
The psychiatrist reported to the Church that Huw would make a forceful defender and that he had strong convictions. A week later the Brothers began settlement proceedings.
Ten years later, a few years after his marriage ended, Huw had a major breakdown and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He is yet to fully recover. He has lost his faith and has no dealings with the Church at all.
‘There was never any acknowledgement, even with the settlement … When I look back now, it didn’t do me any good at all, the settlement, in terms of making me feel any better and it was such a small amount that it didn’t have any consequence in my life.
‘The [Marist] Brothers denied every claim. They sought to minimise the amount they had to pay and I had to fight like buggery to get as much as I did … I think they ought to be held accountable to that.’
He still feels responsible, not for the abuse, but for not stopping it. ‘How did I let that happen?’ That’s the question that haunts him.
Huw is no longer in counselling but says he’s doing okay.
‘I’m a positive thinker. My glass is always half full and I’ve been surrounded by great people. That helps.’